From the time he first entered the majors at the tender age of 21, Matt Kemp has been labeled with potential for greatness. One of the most athletic players in all of baseball, the Oklahoma native always possessed the tools necessary to be a dominant player in the league.
It was just a matter of when his maturity would allow for his greatness. This season could be the beginning of it.
Entering Friday's game against the Rockies, Kemp had hit safely in the Dodgers first 10 games of the year, establishing a .371 average in the process. Numbers that are no surprise to Joe Torre.
"He's come a long way," said the Dodgers Manager. "He's been doing some really good work."
That work actually began in the off-season, long before the Dodgers opened spring training. Kemp stayed in constant contact with hitting coach Don Mattingly during the winter months--the first sign of Kemp's maturation process noticed by Torre.
"Matt has shown more openness this season," said Torre. "Last year, he acted like he knew what he wanted to do at the plate, but after talking to Don in the off-season, Matt is now very open to trying new stuff."
It's easier to try anything new as long as you are relaxed and confident in your abilities. Kemp told me that he probably put too much pressure on himself to perform because of his quick rise to the majors.
"Now I just try to go up there and stay relaxed," said Kemp.
A perfect example of Kemp's new approach came in the season opener in San Diego. In his first two at-bats against Padres ace Jake Peavy, Kemp didn't exactly look like much had changed since last season. But in the 7th inning, Kemp pounded a slider on the outer part of the plate deep over the wall in centerfield, some 418 feet away from home plate.
"There's been just a few guys with his ability," said Torre. "Guys like Alex (Rodriguez), (Daryl) Strawberry, (Mike) Piazza and Dale Murphy would hit fly balls that never seem to come down until they are over the wall. Matt is one of those guys who doesn't have to hit it on the screws to get it out."
Torre played with and against some of the best players of all-time, and he believes that his young centerfielder can develop into one of the top 10 players of Kemp's generation, although he said he would hate to put that type of pressure on his young centerfielder.
But it's always been hard to hide from superstar potential.